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Archive for the ‘tibetan art’ Category

WFMU’s Beware of the Blog brought this to my attention:

The Newark Museum is celebrating their 100th birthday (from yesterday through Sunday, April 26) with 100 straight hours of free admission and loads of activities. There’s a schedule on their website.

To quote WFMU,

The Newark Museum is a gem that sometimes gets lost in the shadow of New York’s mega museums.  They have one of the largest collections of Tibetan art outside of Tibet, and since the 1930’s have had a gorgeous consecrated Tibetan Buddhist altar, most recently renovated in the 1990’s by a monk who worked on it for months, offering visitors the chance to observe his daily progress.

I have to concur. Besides having one of the best Tibetan collections around, it’s one of the only collections to include silk appliqué thangkas! They have a large 15th century Medicine Buddha silk thangka from Gyantse on display, along with a video of its restoration in 2002. There’s also a photo series of an unveiling of the giant Drepung thangka in 1999, by Nancy Jo Johnson. An unusual fabric thangka of Tsongkhapa in the Museum’s collection is not currently displayed.

I recently visited the Museum for the second time and highly recommend going if you have the chance. Friendly staff too!

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Our screening of Creating Buddhas at the Pacific Asia Museum in January accompanied an exhibition of thankas by master artist Pema Namdol Thaye.  I was struck by two things Pema said during his opening talk, and they’ve stayed with me over these past weeks.

He described how he approaches painting a deity.

First, he talked about the importance of understanding something of the deity you’re creating, having a sense of his nature, his essence. In effect, having a relationship with this deity. On the basis of this relationship, before beginning a project, Pema asks the deity for permission to present it on canvas. Of course, deities are compassionate, he noted. They never say no!

The second comment that struck me seems relevant to much more than artistic creation:  Pema shared that when he paints, the primary painting is done in his mind. (He actually said in his “brain.”) That’s the first painting, the original. Then he simply creates a duplicate on the canvas. That’s the secondary painting, a copy.  Or perhaps better stated, the painting on canvas is a natural outgrowth of the original image in his mind.

Pema said that the painting is complete in his mind before he starts to mix paints or touch brush to canvas. This reminds me of the relationship of intention to manifestation — of anything in our lives. What we paint in our minds materializes in our lives, naturally. Pema provided me a good metaphor to keep in mind in approaching all activity. And a good thought to take with me to Christine Kane‘s Unstoppable Power of Intention retreat next week.

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Every screening of Creating Buddhas is a wonderful opportunity to connect with curious, appreciative people and to share something about a world and an art form I love to talk about. But last Saturday’s screening at the Drikung Kyobpa Choling Tibetan Meditation Center in Escondido, California was extraordinary. A couple of surprise guests helped me to see how valuable and important this film is.

Two Tibetans — Lekshay, a fabric thangka maker and good friend of my teacher Dorjee Wangdu, and Tenzin, son of Namsa Chenmo, personal tailor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Both have lived in San Diego for a number of years. Though I didn’t recognize him at first, Lekshay was a frequent visitor to the tsemkhang (sewing workshop) during my apprenticeship. As we talked on Saturday, the memories moved closer. His daughter had found the Creating Buddhas on YouTube and had told her father who recognized my name. So they responded enthusiastically to the center’s invitation for a screening.

I was a bit anxious sharing the film with Tibetans. I had had a similar feeling a week before as thangka painter, Pema Namdol Thaye, watched in Pasadena. I’m carrying on their tradition. I come from outside the culture. Will they think I’m presumptuous? Will they disagree with my statements? Will they object to the ways I’ve evolved my technique?

After the film, my doubts dissolved. During the question-and-answer session, Lekshay and Tenzin expressed gratitude and appreciation for the film, for Isadora’s production of it, and for my continuing production of fabric thangkas in the west. They spoke of their own limited capacity (and that of Tenzin’s father, Namsa Chenmo) to communicate in English, to present their cultural tradition effectively, and they thanked Isadora and me for doing it. They, and I, were almost moved to tears.

Sometimes I think that making silk thangkas is just too impractical. Sometimes I think of giving it up. At some of those times, a feeling of responsibility keeps me going. I feel I have a responsibility to continue, though I’m not sure to whom or to what. Last Saturday, that sense of responsibility was reinforced. Lekshay has not made thangkas for some years. Working to make a living doesn’t leave enough time. Life in the west doesn’t support this kind of work… I have always known I enjoyed favorable circumstances. Saturday I gained a renewed appreciation for just how precious my situation is. I can continue to make silk thangkas. I can teach. I can write. Not everyone can. Perhaps Lekshay and I will be able to collaborate in the future, to exhibit our work together.

This week I’m grateful for the film, for Isadora’s confidence and perseverance, for Tibetan culture, for smiles… and for YouTube.

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I was preparing to write a joyful and inspiring post tonight, recounting some very gratifying encounters at the last screening of Creating Buddhas… but then I read the sad news below. I’ll save my intended post for tomorrow and dedicate my thoughts tonight to the precious teacher Sangye Yeshi and to many dear friends who were his students. Gen Sangye Yeshi played an invaluable role in carrying traditional Tibetan culture and art into the contemporary world. Many young artists continue to nurture the tradition today as a result of his training.

Fire at Ghangchen Kyishong, one dead

Phayul [Monday, January 26, 2009 18:27]

Dharamsala, Jan. 26 – A two-storeyed staff quarters’ building of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives here caught fire around 2PM today. One person was killed in the tragic incident. The deceased was Ven. Sangay Yeshi, former master of thangka painting (scroll art) at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. The library is located in the premises of Ghangchen Kyishong, the headquarters of the exile Tibetan government.

In a quick succession of events, two blasting sounds were heard while the building was still on fire. Witnesses say the blasts were of two cooking cylinders. However, the fire did not spread to the lower storey of the building.

The firefighters soon arrived on the scene and started extinguishing the blaze. Due to steep height of the building from ground level, the water pressure was inadequate to bring the fire under control. However, the fire was brought under control in about 3 hours.

Exile Tibetan Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche and minister for security Ngodup Donchung visited the site immediately.

Also present at the fire site were Indian officials from the local district administration including the Superintendent of Police, Kangra, and District Commissioner.

Ven. Sangay Yeshi was 86 and one of the last masters of traditional thangka painting in the exile Tibetan community.

The LTWA earlier gave courses in Tibetan thangka painting but the course was discontinued a few years ago. A few students of Ven. Sangay had started a small thangka school in Dharamsala under his guidance and support.

The LTWA is the official National Library, Museum and Archive. The library is now a repository for significant collections of artifacts, manuscripts and other records, while also serving as a centre for language and cultural education.

http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?id=23679&t=0

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Endangered Tibetan art form

blossoms in Italy

Wed Dec 17, 2008 9:42am EST

Photo

By Barbara Cornell

MILAN (Reuters Life!) – She left for Dharamsala, India, as an economic and community development volunteer and emerged nearly nine years later as master of a rare Tibetan art form, the fabric Thangka.

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo painstakingly transforms horse hair, fine silk thread, colorful Indian silk fabrics and luscious brocades into traditional depictions of Tibetan Buddhas. A single work takes four months to a year-and-a-half to complete.

Four of her traditional Buddhas and two Tibetan-inspired modern textile pieces are on display in Milan until December 19 at the show “Silk Mosaics: Sacred Images and Techniques from Tibetan Tradition.” Showings can be arranged through January 4.

Rinchen-Wongmo is also the subject of “Creating Buddhas,” a documentary released this fall that will be shown January 18 at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, Calif., which hosted a large exhibition of her work in 2002.

“I never decided to do this,” she said at the Centro Mindfulness Project in Milan, where her work is on display. “When I saw it, it just took me.”

She first saw a crafts center producing fabric Thangkas while touring Dharamsala as part of an economic development team. The intricate, richly colored Buddha tapestries are used in ritual spaces like altars and temples but are so rare that even many Tibetans have never seen one.

Through persistence and luck, perhaps fate, she was allowed to train with a Tibetan master, perfecting delicate stitches amid swarming flies drawn by the raw meat juice smeared on the silk to stiffen it. She now uses a cellulose and acrylic mixture.

She spent a year just learning to embroider eyes.

Sixteen years after that first encounter, Rinchen-Wongmo, 48, is now one of a handful of women fabric Thangka masters and one of the few masters outside Asia. Married to an Italian, the California-born artist lives in Milan and Los Angeles.

She begins by making a drawing in traditional proportions to prepare a template for her bits of cloth. She gives contour to fabric shapes by appliqueing round threads made from three strands of horsehair wrapped in fine silken thread. She sews the shapes together and finishes with a brocade frame.

Rinchen-Wongmo, who uses a Tibetan name meaning “precious, empowered woman,” works on commission so rarely assembles her far-flung Thangkas into a show. Eleven appear on her website, www.silkthangka.com. For exhibition details, visit “Exhibition in Milan” on her blog: stitchingbuddha.wordpress.com.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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Click on the image for a downloadable pdf version:

Mostra a Milano

Mostra a Milano

For the pdf in English, click here.

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Documentary explores the fabrics of spirituality

by Chris Martell, Wisconsin State Journal, Oct 4, 2008

Madison, WI (USA) — Threads of both time and spirituality are what Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost weaves together in her one-of-a-kind career. In addition to being a Ph.D. student at UW-Madison, she is a documentary filmmaker, and a historian who studies the role of textiles in religious worship.

<< Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost is a spiritual textiles historian whose new documentary will benefit the Deer Park Buddhist Center in Oregon, pictured here.

Her latest documentary, “Creating Buddhas: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas,” was released in September and will be shown at a series of screenings here and across the nation. The Deer Park Buddhist Center in Oregon will receive part of the money from DVD sales.

Leidenfrost’s documentary tells the story of an American woman, Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, who spent nine years in India studying the endangered art of making fabric thangkas, and now splits her time between California and Italy and sews them on commission. Thangkas are narrative art that tells the stories of the Buddhas.

After a thangka is blessed by monks, everyone who sees it is said to gain enlightenment. In Tibet, fabric art is considered higher than painting or sculpture because silk is costly and applique and embroidery is so time-consuming.

Thangka-making is not meant to be a creative endeavor since they must conform to iconographic specifications, as well as regional and doctrinal style differences. Fabric thangkas, which date at least to the 13th century, were also treasured because they’re portable, which was important in nomadic cultures. While some thangkas are small, others weigh 1,000 pounds or so and must be carried by about hundreds of monks when they are brought from storage in temples and unfurled on mountains or walls.

“Fabric is very important to Tibetans,” Leidenfrost said. “You see it in the garments, the temple hangings and banners, and in the prayer flags.”

Many of Tibet’s fabric thangkas were destroyed when its monasteries were desecrated during China’s Cultural Revolution. And even if that hadn’t occurred, fabric thangkas are so rare that many practicing Buddhists have never seen one.
Video

Leidenfrost stumbled upon the subject of her documentary during a Google search. Rinchen-Wongmo, who uses her Buddhist name, is one of the few female fabric thangka masters in the world. Leidenfrost approached her to ask if be willing to sew a thangka in the image of green Tara, the Buddhist goddess of compassion who symbolizes women’s capacity for enlightenment, and is a beloved mother figure.

“As a woman, I’ve always been interested in Tara’s story,” Leidenfrost said.

The documentary chronicles the process of Rinchen-Wongmo’s sewing the Tara thangka, which took about six months of full-time work. Leidenfrost found experts on related subjects to interview, and temple music to use in the background.

“If the music isn’t good, the film won’t be good,” she said. “Luckily, every musician gave me their stuff free.”

Also helpful were the grant-writing classes she took as an undergraduate at the Rhode Island School of Design.

“I’ve gotten grants for all my research trips,” she said. “When I started this, there was no published research on fabric thangkas. It’s a part of Tibetan culture that should be preserved.”

She has also done work with Hindu spiritual textiles, a film on African-American women’s church hats, and on textile traditions of Celtic women’s groups. In the future she plans to explore the spiritual textiles of Cambodia, Africa and South America.

Leidenfrost, 27, said that while she has an affinity for Buddhism, she doesn’t identify herself as belonging to any single religion. Leidenfrost’s father ran a multi-faith spiritual center, and she met the Dalai Lama for the first time when she was a year old. Many years later she gave him a “virtual thangka” she had filmed for him.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot, so it’s easy for me to cross borders,” she said. “I can do research, but stay on the outside.”

Unlike most documentary makers, Leidenfrost doesn’t aspire to show her films at festivals like Sundance.

“I plan to show my films in museums and places of learning,” she said. “Film is such an easy medium for teaching people.”

The Venerable Chowng, of Deer Park Buddhist Center, said at least 35 people attended the documentary’s premiere, and not all of them were Buddhists.

“They seemed very interested because this is something unique, and people were quite interested in the craftsmanship involved,” he said. “This is nice because there aren’t many films about textiles, or Buddhism, or even Tibetan culture. A couple of people asked if (Rinchen-Womgo) was accepting students, and we were told she expects a three-year commitment from her students. Thangka-making is a very tedious craft — you can’t just whip them out.”

Chowng said a giant fabric thangka, at least three stories high, was loaned to Deer Park during last summer’s visit by the Dalai Lama, and the center’s own collection includes several fabric thangkas, including some of Tara.

“Everybody loves Tara,” he said. “She’s one of the most important figures in the teaching of Buddhism. She’s always ready for beneficial activity, so you never see her in full lotus position. She’s always pictured with one leg stepping out, ready for action.”

IF YOU GO
The documentary “Creating Buddhas” by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost will be shown:
Thursday Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m. at Shambhala Center of Madison, 408 S. Baldwin St.
Friday Oct. 10, 8 p.m. at Mimosa, 260 W. Gilman St.
Sunday Oct. 19, 1:30 p.m. in room 21, at UW-Madison School of Human Ecology, 1300 Linden Drive
Saturday Nov. 8, 1 p.m. at Alisha Ashman Madison Public Library, 733 N. High Point Road
Tuesday Nov. 11, 7 p.m. at James Reeb Unitarian Church, 2146 E. Johnson St.

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